We all know someone who is affected by substance abuse. On any given Sunday morning if you turn to your neighbors sitting around you on the church pews, you’ll very likely see someone who has been impacted by alcoholism and other drug addictions, although the pastor and other parishioners may not be aware of it.
That’s why the 1992 General Conference created the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV) to equip church leaders with the tools and skills to effectively address alcohol addiction, drug abuse and related violence, and to deliver key resources to United Methodists and partners on a national and international level.
Housed at the General Board of Global Ministries, SPSARV collaborates with the General Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s public policy and social action agency, in advocating for public policy on alcohol, other drugs and related violence.
Addressing substance abuse as a health issue rather than solely a matter of law enforcement is also an underlying issue of the Criminalization of Communities of Color resolution that Women’s Division is bringing to the 2012 United Methodist General Conference. That resolution calls on the church to work to dismantle many of the current “war on drugs” policies that have resulted in racial profiling, mass incarceration and the depiction of whole communities as criminals.
Removing the stigma
Addictions have long been shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, and the stigma and deep shame associated with substance abuse often prevent individuals and families from seeking help to deal with the disease. Individuals and their families experiencing substance abuse often feel isolated and alone in their struggle. Those who do reach out for help often find their churches are not equipped to offer the level of support and resources necessary to deal with the enormous challenges surrounding addictions that they face.
Still the statistics on families facing this problem in the United States and around the globe are staggering:
- More than 23 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. And 1-in-4 Americans will have an alcohol or drug problem at some point in their lives, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
- For every alcoholic and drug addict, there are at least four children under the age of 18 who are adversely affected by this addiction.
- Globally, the World Health Organization estimates 76.3 million people have some alcohol use disorder and 15.3 million have a drug use disorder.
Addiction not only affects the substance abusers but whole families and communities. An individual’s addiction can lead to financial insecurity and the rapid decline of the substance abuser’s health, even to the point of death. Family systems are tragically broken down due to addiction. Up to 80 percent of all child abuse and neglect cases involve substance abuse by the child’s parents.
Despite these stats, the good news is that addiction is a disease that can be treated and with the appropriate interventions people can recover from it. The Church has a powerful role to play in destigmatizing substance abuse and becoming a nurturing, supportive environment for individuals and their families hurt by addiction. Parishioners and families dealing with addiction need a place to share the truth about their struggle and get resources and support for the recovery process
Training for leaders
The cornerstone of the SPSARV ministry is training and networking on alcohol and other drug concerns. Our training covers a wide range of topics related to substance abuse, including breaking the stigma surrounding substance abuse, spiritual caregiving for people with addictions and their families, violence, homelessness, recovery support and other issues.
Addiction is a family disease that is passed on from generation to generation. Educating children and young people about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs is a powerful prevention tool. “Had Enough,” a program of SPSARV, is a movement of United Methodist young people who have had enough of alcohol and other drugs destroying lives and want to stop addiction from being passed on to the next generation. Additionally, SPSARV offers training in a Scripture-based program for children called “Kids Like Me” that teaches children impacted by alcoholism and drug addiction the skills to cope with their life circumstances in healthy and positive ways.
SPSARV has a global reach beyond the United States and has established continental groups in Europe and Africa to engage United Methodist Church leaders in raising awareness, providing educational resources on drug and alcohol issues and abuse as well as peer counseling programs that offers life-skills training to prevent drug use.
Ongoing learning and resources on alcohol and other drugs continues through SPSARV’s “Hope, Healing and Health Reading Circle.” The reading circle, an interactive online resource, offers church leaders an opportunity to review and offer reflections on preselected books and engage in an online discussion on substance abuse issues.
Breaking the silence and stigma of addiction are first steps in helping substance abusers to reach out for help. Each year, SPSARV kicks off a yearlong global awareness campaign to inspire churches to respond to the impact of addictions on individuals and their families in their congregation and communities.
In celebration of our 20th anniversary, SPSARV launched our “Speak About It!” campaign to encourage church leaders to speak out on substance abuse and related violence.
Both educational and action-oriented, the campaign will assist congregations in gaining a deeper understanding of the biblical undergirding of a Christian response to substance abuse prevention and recovery. Congregations will also have an opportunity to participate in SPSARV-sponsored trainings, workshops and seminars, film screenings and forums. Resources will be available for hosting events or worship service on addiction and recovery.
When churches are educated about substance abuse, we can fully embrace the truth about its consequences on the family and community to end the cycle of addiction. Let’s start by talking about “the secret” and then moving to action to confront and address the disease of addiction.
Antoñietta A. Wilson is executive secretary of United Methodist Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence (SPSARV).